black lung disease

Federal Agency To Hear Comment On Silica Dust As Black Lung Epidemic Rages

Oct 16, 2019
Erica Peterson

The Mine Safety and Health Administration will host a public meeting Thursday as it considers action on regulating respirable silica, one of the major contributors to Appalachia’s skyrocketing rates of black lung disease. 

MSHA issued a request for information in response to calls for increased regulation after a 2018 investigation from NPR and PBSFrontline. That investigation found that the agency had failed to adequately protect miners despite knowing that silica, or quartz dust, was contributing to an  epidemic of black lung.

 


New Kentucky Memorial Honors Miners Who Died From Black Lung

Oct 12, 2019
Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners and family members of miners who have died from black lung disease gathered Sunday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to dedicate a new memorial to miners who perished from the workplace disease.

While Appalachian coal country has several memorials to mining disasters, this is believed to be the first memorial to remember the thousands of men and women who died from black lung.

The engraved black stone memorial stands at Riverside Park in Whitesburg and will list the names of some 200 Letcher County coal miners who died of the disease.


Howard Berkes/NPR

Harold Sturgill was disabled by black lung disease when he was 58 years old. Now he advocates for disabled miners.

“When it comes to the mining companies, and it comes to the worker, it’s still all about production,” Sturgill said. “They could care less about me, how much dust I suck in, or how long I’m going to live, because somebody else is there to take my place.”

Sturgill worries that without meaningful action to protect miners, his son, who is also a miner, will contract the same illness. “A man’s gonna feed his family whether it kills him or not,” he said.


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The Kentucky Democratic Party filed an ethics complaint on Monday against a state lawmaker from Muhlenberg County.  Representative Melinda Gibbons Prunty is accused of misusing government resources in violation of state law.

The complaint alleges that Rep. Prunty used her government email account on September 25 to send a newsletter in response to an advertising campaign that highlighted her support of a worker’s compensation bill. 

The ad from the Kentucky Democratic Party highlighted how it thinks the bill has negatively impacted coal miners. 

Adelina Lancianese

Western Kentucky District U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman didn’t hide his emotion when announcing federal charges against a coal company for faking coal dust samples.

“This is one of those that just made me angry, it just made me angry to see the impact on these miners,” Coleman said.

 

Coleman unsealed indictments Wednesday against eight employees of the now-bankrupt Armstrong Energy coal company for falsifying dust monitoring samples in two of its Kentucky mines.


A new government report says that the federal black lung trust fund that helps sick and dying coal miners pay living and medical expenses could incur a $15 billion deficit in the next 30 years. That's if a congressionally mandated funding cut occurs as planned at the end of the year.

Howard Berkes, NPR

William McCool is a 64-year-old former coal miner from Letcher County, Kentucky, with an advanced form of black lung disease. Health experts say the condition is entirely preventable with dust control measures in mines. But today, more miners in Appalachia are being diagnosed with severe black lung than ever before.

“I’ve worked all my life, I’ve seen a lot of coal go down the beltline,” McCool said, pausing to catch his breath between phrases. “Somebody’s made money, but the cheapest thing the company’s got is the worker. Everything else costs them all kinds of money but they can get workers.”

The most severe form of black lung disease is at levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to new data from the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety.

NIOSH has been testing underground coal miners in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia for the disease for 40 years.

In the data letter published today in a scientific journal, researchers say there has been a startling resurgence of complicated black lung.

This is despite federal laws that were supposed to control dust in coal mines and eradicate the disease. 

Evan Smith is an attorney with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg.

Coal miners who work in small mines are more than twice as likely to contract the most serious form of black lung disease, according to a new federal study.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied more than 3700 coal miners between 2005 and 2012. They found that miners who worked in mines with fewer than 50 employees were more likely to both get complicated pneumoconiosis and show signs of abnormal lung functions.

Wes Addington is the deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center. He says, it’s one thing to see that coal miners are still developing mild lung problems.